My journey of faith and vocation
By Deacon Tony Hoban, Delegate from Australia
I was raised Catholic. My parents were very faithful; we went to Mass every weekend as a family when I was young. After I left home, I still attended Mass every Sunday. Even though I lived contrary to a number of key church teachings during the week(?), I had a strong sense of the Sunday Mass obligation – probably based more on fear than a deep relationship with God.
I met and married my wife, Annette. Her family had been catholic but left the Church after her mother escaped a bad marriage, remarried a non-catholic, and felt ostracized from the Church. While she agreed to be married in the Catholic Church, Annette had no interest in being a part of the church again.
Annette got involved in the New Age movement. I also, over time, got drawn into new age concepts. I discovered that beliefs are like a table top – if you knock out two or more legs of the belief, it collapses. My childhood Catholic understanding of faith hadn’t been updated as an adult and it wasn’t strong enough to counter any objections.
The hardest phone call I ever made was to my parents, telling them I was leaving the church.
10 years later, I came to the realisation that I had a good job with good pay, great wife, great kids, nice home in a nice suburb – all the so-called signs of a modern successful life – but I had this tremendous sense of emptiness inside. I eventually discovered it was a spiritual emptiness.
I still believed in a higher power – but more of a New Age idea of a higher power – that we are all part of a ‘collective-consciousness’ type of God. But I realised that if I was essentially ‘God’, then we were all in trouble!
So I sought guidance from God to fill the spiritual emptiness. The shortened version of a much longer story is that this discernment resulted in me returning to the Catholic Church -and in what can only be the work of the Holy Spirit – Annette also felt drawn back to the Church at this time and our three children followed.
Upon returning to the Church, I wanted to relearn about my faith as an adult. I wanted to really own my faith this time. Many Catholics have received a primary school education in the faith – and little more.
I went online for hours each night and found many resources – the Australian Catholic Bishops’ site, EWTN’s web site and many more. As I was doing this, I came across the concept of Permanent Deacons. My initial reaction was ‘No, if you are married, you can’t be part of the clergy in the Catholic Church’. But, of course, you can. I started to think about whether this might be something I was called to.
While one of the hardest phone calls I ever made was to my parents to tell them I was leaving the church, one of the happiest phone calls I ever made was to Mum and Dad to tell them that I was returning to the Church. And when I rang them again, not too long after that, and told them I was interested in becoming a Deacon, Mum replied: “Well, Anthony, you don’t do anything by halves, do you!”
When I told my parish priest, he simply smiled and said: “Well, let’s see about you becoming a communion minister first and we can work our way from there!” Eventually I was accepted into formation and ordained just six years after returning to the Church – again, I’m convinced the Holy Spirit had been hard at work!
As I write this, in June 2022, I have been ordained more than 12 ½ years.
In addition to parish ministries, I have been involved in work / volunteering with the St Vincent de Paul Society, in prison ministry, Catholic Mission (Australia), in university pastoral ministry and disaster recovery chaplaincy.
I am currently the Director of Formation for the Permanent Diaconate in my diocese of Parramatta, where we have 13 active deacons and 14 men in formation. We greatly appreciate the support given to the men in formation by their wives. We realise that they themselves need particular support during the formation period. One member of our formation panel is a woman with the title ‘Director of Spousal Support’; she offers a facilitated discussion with the wives at our monthly formation days.
A little over 4½ years ago my Bishop, Vincent Long Ngyuen, appointed me as Pastoral Leader of the Parochial District of St Luke’s, in the new housing estate of Marsden Park on the north-west edge of Sydney. Annette is very much involved in a variety of ways in supporting me and the community in this role. We don’t have a church building, but we have a wonderful congregation of very culturally diverse Catholics – and Annette and I love supporting them. We hope to have a temporary (demountable) church building by the end of this year which will ease the logistics of setting up for Mass each week on school premises. Our three adult children are heavily involved with us at St Luke’s – in youth ministry, music ministry and as an acolyte.